Not enough support for SEND pupils, warns Ofsted

Watchdog finds that some schools are delivering a curriculum that does not meet SEND pupils' needs

John Roberts

Ofsted: SEND pupils need more support in mainstream schools

Some pupils with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) in mainstream schools are not getting enough help to support their learning and development, Ofsted has claimed.

The finding comes from a new study looking at the experiences of 21 pupils with SEND in mainstream primary and secondary schools before the Covid pandemic.

The watchdog said that many of the schools and families taking part in the research had experienced long waiting times and high levels of bureaucracy in the education, health and care plan (EHCP) process – which aims to establish what support a child needs and how it will be provided.


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And in some instances, families were commissioning or paying for additional services themselves.

Ofsted warned that this suggests it is not a level playing field for pupils from poorer backgrounds.

Concerns over SEND support in mainstream schools

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for education, said: “Many children and young people with SEND have found it harder to engage with remote education during the pandemic, so getting the support right for these pupils is more important than ever.

“This research shows that high-quality education for these children is underpinned by a good understanding of their individual needs, and strong relationships between families and schools.

“Effective joint work between schools and other services, especially including health, is also critical to children’s learning and development."

Ofsted’s study, published today, found:

  • Gaps in teachers’ or staff’s understanding of pupils’ needs has a negative impact on children’s experiences at school and their learning and development. This was especially the case when pupils did not have an EHCP or were less well known to their special educational needs coordinators (Sendcos).
  • Almost all pupils who took part in the research, including those on SEND support, had teaching assistants (TAs) allocated to them. In a small number of cases, pupils had become over-reliant on their TAs, which could potentially impact on their ability to develop independence. 
  • Some parents and carers also raised concerns around social exclusion because of the amount of time their child spent out of class in small-group or individual interventions.
  • Occasionally, schools were teaching a curriculum that was not properly sequenced or well matched to pupils’ needs. A few pupils did not have the background knowledge and skills required, because of missed learning or unmet needs. In some cases, pupils were not always given the chance to master basics before moving forwards with their learning.
  • Some parents and carers took part in decision-making around special education provision. However, others felt that they were not given enough information about their child’s learning and development, or the opportunity to have an input into support plans.
  • Some Sendcos were also full-time class teachers. This suggests that they may not have enough time to fully support pupils with SEND at their school.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This report from Ofsted identifies issues which are already well-known and which stem from a number of problems.

"One, support for children with special educational needs is critically underfunded; two, the system for delivering that funding is byzantine in its complexity; and, three, the process for obtaining the highest level of support through education, health and care plans is incredibly time-consuming and bureaucratic.

“The result is that schools are straining every sinew to provide support for young people with special educational needs - without adequate resources - but there are undoubted problems in delivering the support these children need.

“The government does recognise that there are serious issues and is planning a review of the system but this has been delayed by the pandemic. It clearly needs to tackle this issue urgently.”

 Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “A decade of underfunding schools and an ongoing failure by the government to properly get to grips with systemic failings within the SEND system has been even more exposed by the pandemic.

“Even before Covid, children and young people with SEND have too often been an after-thought for government, and in many cases schools have been left to pick up the pieces with little support and little, if any, additional resource. Delays in external agencies providing the right support, overly bureaucratic planning processes and the need for better training and support for staff all point to a woefully underfunded system.

"Children and young people with SEND and their families deserve to be prioritised. Without such a clear focus, the government risks allowing the disadvantage gap to widen still further.

“There is an opportunity to put pupils with SEND at the heart of the educational recovery agenda. This starts with greater investment.

"The government has said that no child should be left behind – now is the time to put its money where its mouth is and make sure the most vulnerable children in society are at the very heart of that promise.”

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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